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Feb 10 2014

The Challenge of Colca Canyon: My First Canyon Trek

Since I had a few days to spare before trekking to Machu Picchu, I decided to take part in another trek, which was being organised by a couchsurfer from Arequipa.  He sent out a message on the Couchsurfing website inviting other couchsurfers to join in a trek to Colca Canyon.  I arranged to meet him and everyone else taking part at the bus station in Arequipa at 5.30 am.

Day 1 Arequipa to Llahuar

Once everyone had arrived, we boarded a bus which stopped at a small, quiet town called Yanque for about 20 minutes.  That gave us a chance to have a quick look around before setting off again for Cabanaconde.  It seemed like a nice place to stop for a night or two, with its white volcanic stone buildings and it isn’t particularly touristy.  Most tourists/travellers do as we did and have a quick look around while the bus is stationary.

Our next stop was Cruz del Condor, aptly named because there’s a strong possibility of seeing condors flying overhead.  The best time to see them is early in the morning.  We remained on the bus and didn’t see any flying around at 9 am.  The locals were keen to make the most of the opportunity they had to sell us their wares, even though we didn’t get off the bus.  After that, we finished the journey in Cabanaconde, which is where we had lunch and began our trek in Colca Canyon.

It was just before we started trekking that it seemed to dawn on the organiser of the trek that this would be the largest group he had ever taken on a trip.  As it turned out, he was relatively new to guiding people on treks and was hoping to turn it into a business.

As a group, some people had trekked before but others hadn’t; some were pretty fit whereas others weren’t.  This was set to test the guide.  The first part of the trek took around an hour longer than anticipated.  The other couchsufer, a young Danish guy called Martin, was a seasoned trekker and outdoor person.  He was a great trekking partner.  We teamed up and were the first to reach our accommodation for the night.  We were pleasantly surprised to find an outdoor thermal bath there.  This was a wonderful treat at the end of the first day.  It turned out to be very social as others joined us when they arrived.  It was getting dark by that stage, so we were bathing under the stars.

It turned cold at night, so I was glad that I had taken all my warm clothes with me.  I wore the lot.  As I wasn’t feeling particularly great, for some unknown reason, I skipped dinner and retired to my bamboo room for the night.

Day 2 Llahuar to Fure

Feeling better in the morning, after a good night’s sleep, we continued our journey.  We trekked for a few hours to the first rest stop.  This day was more challenging as it involved going uphill and downhill quite a bit.  The terrain was very stony and slippery at times when going downhill.  The views, however, were stunning.  I love being surrounded by huge mountains that make us humans look small.  I takes my breath away and this landscape certainly did that and not just because of the exertion!

We stopped frequently to ensure we stayed together as a group.  At one point, we came across a small stone chapel, which we weren’t expecting.  We stopped there for a bit to rest and take some photos.

After that, we continued trekking.  The scenery was fabulous.  It was rugged with lots of greenery and cacti.  We made the most of one cactus called Opuntia or Prickly Pears.  We picked and ate the fruit or Tuna, (not the fish variety) as it’s called in Spanish.  You have to be careful to only consume the inner part.  The outer coating has small spines, which can irritate if ingested.  I was shown how to safely do that, so I could enjoy this native fruit.

During our trek, we mainly came across local people going about their daily business rather than trekkers, which was great.  That was surprising, considering Colca Canyon is Peru’s third most visited destination.

We arrived at our accommodation for the night.  Unsurprisingly, this was more basic than the previous night.  The toilet wasn’t the best nor the worst I had come across on my travels.  To be honest, it was the novelty of having a tin cubicle for a toilet with no roof surrounded by the most spectacular scenery that did it for me.

After lunch, Martin wanted to see the Huaruro Waterfall, about an hour and a half away.  It was raining and my legs were aching, so I really wasn’t that fussed about going.  The thing is, I hate missing out, so I decided to go.  Because I was going, most of the girls in the group wanted to go then.  I had appropriate rain gear, but most of the group didn’t.  Martin and I took our headlamps just in case.  Well, you never know!  I was concerned about the path being slippery due to the rain but was reassured it would be fine.  As it happened, it wasn’t.  The path was really slippery, especially on the way back going downhill.

We made it to the waterfall just as the weather worsened.  The rain continued and the place was a whiteout at times.  That meant the view of the waterfall came and went.

The others were getting thoroughly soaked, so we headed back.  After easing ourselves down the slippery path to the river crossing with the help of plant stems, we discovered that the water was raging and it would be difficult to cross.  Our guide didn’t really know what to do and was stumbling, so Martin took charge.  He managed to get halfway across and moved some stones to give us something to step on to get across.  It was getting dark at that point and many of the group were wet and very cold.  We had no choice but to get to the other side… and soon.  Thankfully, one of the children from the family we were staying with came looking for us because it was getting dark and the weather was so bad.  She navigated her way across with ease to help.  The guide positioned himself on two stones and between the three of them, they managed to help us across, one by one.  It was a hairy moment, but we all got across safely and back to base, which was the main thing.

We changed into warm, dry clothes and ate in one of the bedrooms because the dining room wasn’t watertight.  So, all 14 of us were huddled in a 4-person bedroom eating our dinner.  It was very cosy!  Some of the guys had brought beers with them, so we all had a beer each that night before bedtime.

Day 3 Fure to Cabanaconde

People’s natural skills and abilities emerge in situations, like the one the night before.  Martin took charge and made sure we all crossed the river safely and he was the one who galvanised everyone into action the following morning to get us all moving.

This was another challenging trek at times with a lot of downhill. It was at this point I realised how many muscles you use going downhill.

We ended up splitting into two groups – a fast and slower group.  Martin and I wanted to get to Cabanaconde that night, so we needed to get a move on.  A few others from the group joined us.  We got to ‘The Oasis’, as it’s called, in Sangalle by 12.30 pm.  I went straight into the swimming pool.  The water was cold, but it was perfect after being so hot from trekking.  After that, we all had lunch before getting ready to continue our journey.

We had a 1 km trek back up the canyon.  After having trekked for 5 hours that day already, I found it hard work but, with Martin’s help and encouragement, I did it.  He was really fit and didn’t find it particularly strenuous.  Apparently, it should take 3 hours to climb, but it took me three and a half hours.

When we got to the town, a couple of other trekkers asked if we had seen one of the girls in their group.  Somehow they lost her on the way back.  It was dark when we got to the town, so it didn’t sound good.  Having had dinner and while heading back to our accommodation, we were told that they had found the missing girl safe and sound.  I was so relieved to hear the good news.  With that, I went off to bed to have a good night’s sleep after all that fresh air and exercise.  Little did I know that I would have hardly any sleep that night.

It was Easter Sunday and, boy, did I know about it!  My room faced the square and, in the middle of the night, there was a church service and they used a loud speaker.  Not only that but, from time to time throughout the night, a band with drums would start playing.

Day 4 Cabanaconde to Arequipa

The next morning, I reluctantly dragged myself out of bed and went down to reception to find out the time.  I didn’t have a watch and my phone battery didn’t have any charge left.  It was later than I wanted to get up, but the guy at reception who promised to give me a wake up call didn’t, nor did Martin.  I knocked on his door, but he didn’t answer.  As it turned out, Martin had gotten up early and was out in the square.  We had bought tickets for the 7 am bus the night before, so I had to get a move on.  Being as it was Easter Monday, the square was full of people.  The women were dressed in vibrant colours and they were carrying flowers.  While waiting for the bus, I bought a hot Quinoa and Apple drink from a street vendor.  It was the first I had ever had.  It was the perfect breakfast drink.  It was so delicious that I bought another before meeting up with the rest of the group and boarding the bus.

We stopped at Cruz del Condor in the hope of seeing condors soaring high in the sky.  Unfortunately, as you can see from the photograph below, it was very cloudy.  One guy reckoned he saw condors, but I didn’t see any.  It obviously wasn’t mean to be.  We took some photos of the scenery before getting back on the bus.

Once we were on the bus, we actually saw two condors flying in the distance, but it was impossible to get a good photo while the bus was moving – typical!  If you squint you might be able to see the condor in the photograph below.

The bus stopped at Chivay for an hour before continuing its journey to Arequipa.

It was the first time I had trekked in and out of a canyon.  It was challenging but well worth it for the scenery and the people we met along the way.  I had an amazing time.  I’m really glad we had Martin with us on the trek.  He turned into the unofficial guide and did an excellent job.


You can see where all the locations are on this map…

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Have your say

If you have been to Colca Canyon, did you have better luck than me and get a better sighting of the condors?  I’ll obviously be extremely jealous if you have, so you can just lie and say no. 🙂

About the author

Teresa Keane

Teresa has been to almost 60 countries. She started travelling independently at the age of 38 when she gave up her job, rented out her house, put her possessions in storage and spent a year travelling the world. It changed her life. She now creates, publishes, & promotes online travel content and is an experienced freelance trainer & EFL teacher.

2 pings

  1. An Alternative Trek to Machu Picchu - Independent Travel Help

    […] Having trudged around the many tour operators that were offering tours to Machu Picchu, I ended up plumping for a tour offered by… the veggie restaurant I frequented in Cusco.  I know, I know!  There are tons of tour operators offering a variety of treks and I chose one arranged by one of the veggie restaurants.  Well, it was the mystery of the ‘Jungle Trek’ to Machu Picchu that won me over and I am partial to things that are slightly different to the norm.  So, I booked it with Pepe, a local guide based at the restaurant who was leaving for the trek in a few days with two women from the US.  With a few days to play with, I decided not to hang about and booked myself on a bus to meet up with a couchsurfer from Arequipa who was taking a few locals on a trek to Colca Canyon. […]

  2. My First Canyon Trek – Independent Travel Help | LAB

    […] Read the rest of the post at it’s original source by clicking here. […]

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